Social Innovation Processes

In this article, we examine that the dynamics of the social innovation process depends on the mode and intensity of the interaction and the area of society in which the social innovation is concentrated. Also, nine types of social innovation, obtained from the perspective of process dynamics, are introduced and discussed.

SI-DRIVE is about the connection between social innovation and social change. The process dimension of social innovations is one of its five key dimensions that deals with the creation and structuring of institutions and behavioral changes. This dimension, in theory, addresses the mechanisms that form a bridge between individual social innovation activities (at the micro level) and social change (at the macro level). The wide range of social innovations studied in SI-DRIVE’s Global Mapping appears diverse and experimental. To improve the understanding of social innovation processes, there is a need to go beyond the limitations of a specific social innovation and examine the interplay between projects and different factors of social innovation from different social contexts. Also, we should avoid oversimplification in reducing process dynamics to issues such as scalability or imitation and not only them.

First, the dynamics of the process depend on the societal domains in which the social innovation is embedded. We focus on three governing domains of society: civil society, economics, and politics. When we talk about social domains, we realize that each of these domains operates under a specific logic; However, aspects of other domains of society can also be identified.

Second point, process dynamics are often based on the type and intensity of interaction. Common types of interaction are competition, cooperation, and hierarchy. The intensity of the interaction depends on the degree of exchange between the social innovation activity and the strength of its overall idea.

Also, other aspects such as the degree of professionalization of social innovation activities, the dynamics of society behind these activities (such as digitalization, migration, demographic changes, environmental and energy issues) and the role of politics are considered.

In the table, nine types of social innovation are presented from the perspective of process dynamics. These nine houses represent the dynamics of the process resulting from the interaction between the two dimensions. It should be remembered that these are ideal examples, and in reality, there are many examples that fall within these examples, and during development, social innovation activities can move from one house to another.

Referring to different domains of society, it can be seen that three types are established in the field of economy.

Enterprise-based social innovations are driven by the enterprises themselves and focus on their internal structure. Implementation patterns are discrete, meaning that companies typically implement discrete solutions. Exchange or shared platforms are less important and political support is found only in rare cases. The driving forces behind these activities include demographic changes, lack of skilled labor and economic pressure. The dynamics of the process is low and perhaps slow due to continuous pressures. This kind of best is documented in the field of innovation in the workplace (for more information see the article on the role of innovation in the workplace as one of the most important drivers of social innovation).

Social innovations inspired by entrepreneurial drive are based on a new balance between economic and social goals. They follow professional trading patterns and at least they don’t aim to limit size. These interactions are characterized by competition and the market, but not only by prices, but also by credit. Despite competition, entrepreneurial social innovations are influenced by multiple platforms, forums or networks across geographic boundaries. This dynamic varies from country to country and depends on factors such as the welfare system, the traditional division of labor between the government, the market, and civil society, the legal framework for companies based on social innovation, the social innovation ecosystem, and financing opportunities.

Social innovations are usually based on digital business models and are often supported by venture capital funding. These types of innovations are often associated with the sharing economy, which is based on the sharing and marketing of goods owned by individuals. They act against the standards or political regulations and are considered as a hindrance factor. Their interactions are market-oriented and their competitiveness is based on a large community, which is necessary to scale. Due to intense competition, the organization of common platforms and exchange between social innovators is limited. Competition, sometimes globally, and digitization are dynamic driving forces, at least at the beginning of business activities. In the long run, the dynamics alone depend on further adjustments (cancels) and the strength of the settling agents. This type of innovation is common practice, for example in the field of car sharing.

These three types of social innovation are clearly focused in the context of civil society:

Temporary bite is defined as a type of social innovation that happens in a limited time and place. This type of innovation is carried out by often passionate individuals who aim to solve a specific local problem. Individual conflict prevails here and personal social networks are used. Pragmatism or problem solving occurs with a low degree of professionalization and high support of volunteers. Political support is limited and often informal. Interaction with other social innovations is limited and there is no reference to a global social trend. As a result, the dynamics of this type are often limited. As it reaches the scaling or promotion stage, it moves to type two when it is marketed or to type seven when credible political support is achieved. Examples of this type can be identified in different areas such as evacuation and refugees or new models of care.

Community-based social innovations focus strongly on self-organization and in some cases aim to strengthen local communities. These types of innovations are based on a broad local community and their network organization requires a degree of professionalization. Local politicians are often involved in this process and benefit from government financial support as much as possible. These activities are implemented at the local level, but sometimes they also benefit from communication strategies. These types of innovations are often aligned with global positive societal trends (such as environmental protection, renewable energy, and local food) and are partially supported by formal or informal national or global networks that provide direction. Local dynamics are very strong and sustainable in the long term, so that transfer of effects, for example from self-sufficient energy supply to local food, is possible. However, the self-reinforcing macro-dynamics is still not fully exploited and depends on political factors such as decentralization or regionalization, financing, regulation, etc. This type of social innovation is recognized as a characteristic for practical fields in the field of environment and energy (local energy production, energy services, repair, reuse and recycling, sustainable primary food production).

Global social innovations are based on local social movements and do not derive directly from global mapping or SI-DRIVE study activities. Civil societies are different at different levels of countries, and the idea of “multiple modernities” assumes that there is no common path to modernity. However, there are social innovations that are widely transmitted around the world, including car sharing, women’s advocacy activities, and local food and energy sourcing. These activities are implemented in different ways depending on the state of a civil society and different regional cultures, but there is always a common idea behind these activities. Imitation, learning and adaptation shape these interactions. This process dynamics is different from the other mentioned types, because it does not represent a single project, but rather a group of projects that gradually attract more attention. This dynamic is growing so far, but it is still limited, and the future of this type of social innovation is likely to depend on more informal and flexible interactions, in the way that Appadurai refers to as “cellular”. Some examples of these interactions can be seen in the fields of community empowerment and integrated care.

Three other categories are located in the political domain:

Experimental social innovations are based on funding programs, are organized in the form of projects, and are within a specific time frame and scope. These funding programs cover a wide variety of activities and due to the formal requirements and rules of contacts, at least a professional level is necessary. Projects are isolated and scattered; Interaction as an organized exchange between different social innovation projects is very weak. Therefore, we do not expect extensive dynamics from this type of social innovation. However, some projects provide strategies and their tools are embedded in an action context, indicating that this activity is transferred to the eighth type.

A type of embedded social innovation means a type of social innovation that naturally becomes a component or element of a specific field of action. This type of social innovation is based on funding from the government, which may refer to specific calls to provide innovative solutions in a specific field of practice or provide implementation resources. Initially, social innovation activities of this type are fragmented, but if they are successful, they can motivate the strengthening of the welfare system and compensate for its weaknesses. These social innovation activities have the potential to become a stable part of the welfare system, and here, professionalization and business model development are important. Often the transition to type two, social entrepreneurial innovation, is predictable. Typical examples can be found in the areas of youth unemployment, mobility of vulnerable groups, reducing educational disadvantage, providing examples and inspiration, and finally, integrated care.

Top-down social innovations are created based on central political agendas, which include a combination of incentives, support, motivation, regulation, and prohibition. In this case, communication is hierarchical, but the dynamics of the process rely on people’s acceptance and active participation. Based on case studies, there are examples in the areas of income support and central countries such as China or Russia. There are also examples of top-down social innovation that have failed, such as the prohibition of alcohol consumption in the United States in the 1930s or the more recent anti-smoking campaigns and regulations.

In summary, we must be careful that these types are ideal and the matrix is static in nature. Studies have shown that social innovation activities can move from one type to another during their life cycle, especially between different pillars. For example, car sharing started as a local project and today is considered an entrepreneurial or even disruptive business. This involves a shift from belonging to civil society or politics to market-oriented activities. Moreover, it is possible to move from a discrete niche – through interactive or more structured social innovations – to global dynamics. Most of our studies are in the upper two levels, probably due to their younger age. There are general trends in social innovations, but its dynamic growth requires a systematic use of the capacity of social innovation in practical and related policy fields. Therefore, the challenge is to move towards third boxes to unlock the capacity for social innovation. This transition may occur in civil society; It may be through the market, or it may be part of policy strategies.

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